College fairs are a great way to meet representatives from universities across the country, all in one evening. Maximize your time at the fair by doing two things: making connections with colleges you’re already interested in and discovering new schools you might add to your list. To get the most out of a college fair, invest time in preparing beforehand; be fully engaged during the event; and follow up afterward.

Prepare before the fair.

Find out what schools will attend the college fair, and research online to see which ones meet your criteria in terms of size, location and majors. Decide which schools you’ll prioritize visiting at the college fair.

Find out whether you should bring address labels.

The colleges you interact with will want your contact information so they can follow up with you. Many college fairs will have an electronic system that lets you type out this information once and then give each college a bar code that connects to your profile. But at some college fairs, you’ll be asked to fill out cards to get on a mailing list. Printing labels in advance and bringing them to the college fair saves you valuable time. Make sure the label includes not just your name and address, but also your email address, graduation year, high school and birthdate.

Figure out your strategy.

Really large college fairs will provide a directory of where each booth is located, so you can plan your route and make sure to visit your top colleges. If you’re attending with a parent, the two of you might want to split up to make sure you cover all the territory. Bring a bag or backpack to carry the materials you’ll collect.

Put your best foot forward.

Make a good impression by dressing in “business casual” clothes and interacting with college representatives in a professional way. Introduce yourself to the reps at your top-choice schools with a firm handshake, and look them in the eye. Resist the urge to goof around with your friends - you’ll have other chances to do that. Use this time to invest in your future.

Bring good questions.

Before the fair, think about what you want to learn from the college representatives. You don’t need to ask facts-and-figures questions you can easily answer with a look at the school’s website or brochure. Instead, ask questions that will start a real conversation, like these:

  • What kind of internships do you offer?
  • Where are your study-abroad locations, and what percentage of students study abroad?
  • Could you describe life on your campus outside of the classroom?
  • What are some of the special programs your career planning department offers to help students find internships or jobs?
  • How do students at this university engage in community service?
  • What’s the best thing about living in this city?
  • What kind of opportunities do undergraduates have to do research with their professors?
  • What are some ways I can get to know your university better other than reading the brochure?

Skip questions about admission requirements.

You can learn more from the college’s website, or you can follow up with the admission representative later. Your time at a fair is best used for making connections with colleges you know about and discovering new ones you might add to your list. If you have extra time after visiting your top-priority colleges, branch out and visit a few you’ve never heard of.

Then, follow up.

When you have a conversation with a representative of a school you’re interested in, make sure to pick up the person’s business card. Send a quick email within the next few days to thank the person for his or her time and reiterate your interest in the school. Depending on the college, this person might eventually review your application, so extra touches like a personal note help you stand out. Organize the materials from colleges that interested you, and start thinking about which campuses you’d like to visit.